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HVAC Mechanics - Mesothelioma Risks

There is a saying that goes something like this: "Where there's heat, there's asbestos." For those in the heating and cooling industry, this may be all too familiar. HVAC workers (HVAC stands for "heating, ventilation and cooling") have been up close and personal with asbestos for many years—and many don't even know it. Asbestos was used for years in heating appliances and systems due to its insulation qualities, which were perfect for maintaining consistent heat within these systems. When these systems and appliances needed repair, a specialized HVAC mechanic answered the call. While working with these appliance's heating and cooling systems, HVAC mechanics faced exposure to asbestos almost daily. Because its harmful effects were not known, many mechanics failed to take safety measures to prevent exposure. When asbestos use was banned in the 1980s, it wasn't used for HVAC purposes anymore, but asbestos remained in the older systems.

Asbestos is the leading cause of a deadly cancer called mesothelioma. HVAC mechanics are at risk for developing mesothelioma after years of exposure to this harmful mineral. Whenever something containing asbestos is disturbed, the fibers can be released into the air. If someone is in close range, these fibers can easily be swallowed or inhaled, and then make their way through the body to the lungs. Asbestos fibers typically become embedded in the membrane lining of the chest cavity and lungs, called the mesothelium. Asbestos fibers have also been found in the abdominal mesothelium and the heart. The fibers are harsh, often leading to scarring and inflammation of the mesothelium.

Asbestos is also a carcinogen, which is why it can ultimately lead to mesothelioma cancer. The tumor starts in the mesothelium, and can spread to other areas of the body if left untreated—which it usually is. Symptoms of mesothelioma are common to many other kinds of illnesses, namely pneumonia or the flu. Even an experienced physician can overlook the signs of mesothelioma, especially if vital information—such as asbestos exposure—is not reported. People can go years without knowing mesothelioma is slowly developing and taking over their body, and don't find out until it is too late. Many people diagnosed with mesothelioma are already progressed to stage III or IV, the highest stages of cancer, when treatments may be ineffective and life expectancy is short. Mesothelioma has claimed thousands of lives, and millions more are still at risk.

Even today, HVAC mechanics can still be exposed to asbestos. Most buildings containing the material have not undergone proper asbestos removal, which means every time an HVAC mechanic goes to work, he or she may still be at risk. More than 700,000 buildings throughout the United States still contain asbestos. It is important for HVAC technicians to take safety measures to decrease the chance of exposure as much as possible, and also to see a doctor regularly. By undergoing routine exams and tests for mesothelioma or other asbestos diseases, there is a better chance of catching it early—and getting help sooner rather than later. This can make a huge difference in your quality of life and life expectancy. Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that has already claimed thousands of lives—don't let it take yours.

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Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Below are a list of occupations and trades that were at risk for asbestos exposure:

Last Edited: Thu November 14, 2013